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The Medical Messiahs: A Social History of Medical Quackery in 20th Century America

The Medical Messiahs: A Social History of Medical Quackery in 20th Century America

Copyright Date: 1967
Pages: 520
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    The Medical Messiahs: A Social History of Medical Quackery in 20th Century America
    Book Description:

    James Harvey Young describes the development of patent medicines in America from the enactment in 1906 of the Pure Food and Drugs Act through the mid-1960s. Many predicted that the Pure Food and Drugs Act would be the end of harmful nostrums, but Young describes in colorful detail post-Act cases involving manufacturers and promoters of such products as Cuforhedake Brane-Fude, B. & M. "tuberculosis-curing" liniment, and the dangerous reducing pill Marmola. We meet, among others, the brothers Charles Frederick and Peter Kaadt, who treated diabetic patients with a mixture of vinegar and saltpeter; Louisiana state senator Dudley J. LeBlanc, who put on fabulous medicine shows as late as the 1950s promoting Hadacol and his own political career, and Adolphus Hohensee, whose lectures on nutrition provide a classic example of the continuing appeal of food faddism.


    "The Medical Messiahs is an example of historical writing at its best-scholarly, perceptive, and exceedingly readable. Despite his objectivity, Young's dry humor shines through and illuminates his entire book."-John Duffy,Journal of Southern History

    "This book is written in tight, graceful prose that reflects thought rather than substitutes for it. Done with a sure feel for the larger political, social, and economic background, it demonstrates that historians who would make socially relevant contributions need only adhere to the best canons of their art."-Oscar E. Anderson, Jr.,The American Historical Review

    "[This] material is so interestingly presented that the readers may not immediately appreciate what a major historic study [the book] is, and how carefully documented and critically analyzed."-Lester S. King,Journal of the American Medical Association

    "Dr. Young's well-written social history of health quackery in twentieth-century America will not only increase the understanding of our times by future historians but will also be of great value to all those interested in improving the health of the population by reminding them of the past."-F. M. Berger,The American Scientist

    Originally published in 1975.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6869-8
    Subjects: Psychology, Public Health

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    James Harvey Young
    (pp. xiii-2)
    (pp. 3-12)

    THE first court trial under the Pure Food and Drugs Act,² pitting the federal government against the maker of a remedy with the inspired and inspiring name of Cuforhedake Brane-Fude, got under way during February 1908. This was nearly twenty months after Theodore Roosevelt had signed the pioneering statute and more than thirteen months after the law’s effective date.

    In the meantime Harvey Washington Wiley, chief of the Bureau of Chemistry in the Department of Agriculture, had not been idle. Wiley, whose crusading zeal had been of central significance in the enactment of the law, was now charged with its...

    (pp. 13-40)

    IN 1908 Robert Harper of Washington paid a fine for misbranding Cuforhedake Brane-Fude. In 1708 Nicholas Boone of Boston paid a fee for placing the first patent medicine advertisement in an American newspaper. At the Sign of the Bible near the corner of School-House Lane, noted apothecary Boone in theNews-Letter,he would sell “DAFFY’S Elixir Salutis, very good, at four shillings and sixpenceperhalf pint bottle.”¹ In the two centuries between the Elixir and the Brane-Fude, patent medicines in America had flourished mightily.

    Daffy’s Elixir was the first of a score or more of packaged remedies shipped over...

    (pp. 41-65)

    THE Cuforhedake Brane-Fude case was a dramatic victory but not an accurate harbinger of the fate of nostrum makers under the 1906 law. The nature of Harvey Wiley’s interests, the shrewdness of proprietors, the decisions of judges, all joined to hold enforcement of the patent medicine provisions to a very modest level indeed.

    Dr. Wiley’s dominating passion was pure food, and it controlled his enforcement decisions as it had earlier influenced his crusading. Of the first 1,000 judgments rendered under the law, covering cases up to mid-1911, only 135 actions concerned proprietary medicines. Food adulteration, to the Bureau chief, constituted...

    (pp. 66-87)

    THE first federal agency to combat medical quackery was the Post Office Department. Before Dr. Alsberg sought to test the Sherley Amendment, even before Dr. Wiley began to enforce the Pure Food and Drugs Act, the Postmaster General had aimed a powerful weapon at unscrupulous medical promoters who used the mails.

    Back in 1872, during the widespread chicanery of the Gilded Age, Congress, in revising the postal statutes, had devised a new way of fighting fraud. Promoters of get-rich-quick schemes involving securities, mining rights, counterfeit currency, and the like depended on the mails, especially the conveyance of money in registered...

  9. 5 B. & M.
    (pp. 88-112)

    DURING 1922 in a federal district court in Concord, New Hampshire, the United States government suffered defeat in an action to condemn “Eleven Packages of B. & M. External Remedy.” Disappointed but not disheartened, officials charged with enforcing food and drug legislation set out forthwith on what was destined to be a ten-year campaign to turn the tables of justice.²

    B. & M. labeling flaunted the boldest of claims. The list of maladies it could cure ran on and on: pneumonia, laryngitis, bronchitis, pleurisy, la grippe, asthma, hay fever, catarrh, rheumatism, lumbago, neuralgia, neuritis, peritonitis, neurasthenia, locomotor ataxia, varicose veins,...

    (pp. 113-128)

    WHILE Frank Rollins fought with the Food and Drug Administration over the fate of B. & M., a court contest equally decisive sought to determine the anti-nostrum powers of another federal agency. One contestant in this struggle was Edward Hayes, erstwhile promoter of male-weakness remedies, now vending Marmola, an obesity cure. Hayes’ court opponent was the Federal Trade Commission.

    Like food and drug legislation, the Federal Trade Commission statute was a product of the Progressive period. Enacted in 1914 under President Woodrow Wilson’s leadership, the law sought to make safeguards against business monopoly more effective. A five-man independent body, granted...

    (pp. 129-157)

    THE American Medical Association’s continuous, relentless, excoriating critique of quackery formed a bridge between the patent medicine muckraking of the Progressive period and the “guinea pig” exposure of the Great Depression. In charge of this important task for the AMA was a shy and dedicated man.

    Arthur J. Cramp had joined the AMA staff as an editorial assistant during the same year that the Pure Food and Drugs Act had been passed by Congress. Then a man of 34, he had shortly before received his M. D. degree from the Wisconsin College of Physicians and Surgeons. Born in England, Cramp...

    (pp. 158-190)

    A FEW DAYS after the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Chief of the Food and Drug Administration, Walter Campbell, walked across the street to pay a call on a new Assistant Secretary of Agriculture, Rexford G. Tugwell Tugwell had raised a point about a letter prepared for his signature in Campbell’s office, and the Chief felt a personal explanation was in order. The matter settled, the two men went on to a general conversation about the way in which existing food and drug legislation failed to provide proper safeguards for the consumer.²

    That same afternoon Campbell was again summoned...

    (pp. 191-216)

    WITH their new law as weapon, Food and Drug officials launched a relentless campaign to make self-medication safe. It was a sort of cat and mouse game played at tortoise speed. Full-scale enforcement efforts could not begin at once, for only part of the law became effective immediately, and Congress had adjourned without appropriating funds to help an agency, already understaffed, in assuming its new tasks.² When all provisions of the law did go into effect, on the first day of 1940, less than two years remained before the nation was plunged into a massive war, a war which forced...

    (pp. 217-238)

    IN 1923 the Canadian physician Frederick G. Banting was awarded a Nobel prize for the discovery of insulin and for the first successful use of this hormone in treating patients afflicted with diabetes. Soon thereafter, an Indiana doctor marketed a starkly different treatment for the same disease. The achievement of Banting and his associates offered the hope of something approximating normal life for men, women, and children hitherto doomed to a hazardous existence and, quite frequently, to rapid death. The achievement of Charles Frederick Kaadt and his physician brother snatched that hope away from many diabetics who responded with pathetic...

    (pp. 239-267)

    IN early April of 1948, Mrs. Marguerite Rice of Blue Island, Illinois, observed that a small lump had formed in her right breast. Very disturbed, she went to see her family doctor. He gravely told her that the lump might be cancerous and urged an immediate trip to the hospital so that a biopsy might establish an accurate diagnosis. But Mrs. Rice did not go. She telephoned her husband, an engineer and vice-president of a suburban corporation, who was in California on business. In a day or so Rice and his wife talked with each other again. He agreed with...

  16. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 260-281)

    THE quarter century following the enactment of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 witnessed a revolution in the drugs which doctors prescribed for ailing patients. So vast was it in scope, so significant in repercussions, this revolution ranks as one of the major events in medical history. Its side effects for self-medication were bound to be enormous.

    That same sulfanilamide, whose disastrous mixing with a poisonous solvent had led to the “new drug” provision in the 1938 law, heralded the day of miracle drugs. Sulfanilamide fulfilled the hope of Paul Ehrlich, early in the century, for a specific...

    (pp. 282-295)

    WHILE the chemotherapeutic revolution brought an increasing array of new and effective drugs to treat the ailments of mankind, quackery’s ineffective nostrums still flourished. The most outlandish and unscrupulous of therapeutic claims reached would-be customers through the comparative privacy of direct mail advertising. In the Post Office Department, a yeoman’s guard of inspectors and lawyers sought to stem this vicious tide.

    In 1938, the year of the new food and drug law, broad-gauge cure-alls led the list of actions initiated by the Department. Some 28 purported panaceas, with curative promises running through the whole range of human disease, were entered...

    (pp. 296-315)

    TWENTY-FIVE years after the publication ofYour Money’s Worth, the editors ofConsumer Reportsasked Stuart Chase to take a retrospective look at what had happened to advertising since he and F. J. Schlink had loosed their devastating blast. “The advertising of . . . patent medicines,” Chase wrote, “was perfectly terrible in 1927, and it is terrible today.”²

    When Chase rendered this gloomy progress report in 1954, the Wheeler-Lea Act, intended to strengthen the Federal Trade Commission’s policing powers over advertising, had been on the statute books for almost 16 years. That law, designed in part by members of...

    (pp. 316-332)

    ONE of the Federal Trade Commission’s “customers” during the summer of 1950 was a Louisiana state senator named Dudley J. LeBlanc. Pausing briefly to sign a stipulation which promised to tone down his advertising claims, LeBlanc quickly turned his amazing energies to promoting the gaudiest comet to flash across the nostrum sky in the 20th century. Hadacol was, as Morris Fishbein said, the “apotheosis of nostrums.”²

    LeBlanc, during the heyday of his fame, was fond of telling inquiring reporters how it had all begun. In 1943, he said, he got a bad pain in his right big toe. The pain...

    (pp. 333-359)

    “HADACOL was a very, very meritorious product,” insisted its inventor, Dudley J. LeBlanc, in talking with a reporter a decade after the B-vitamin tonic boom had collapsed. “Who is to say that those people weren’t helped for those ailments? The doctors? Who can believe them? No, my friend, there’s still much that’s not known about nutrition.”²

    About one thing, at least, LeBlanc was right. Nutrition, as a science, was as yet incomplete. Because of what was not yet known and the complexity of what was known, nutrition, during the 20th century, has provided a happy hunting ground for those who...

    (pp. 360-389)

    “SUPPOSE you suddenly discovered that you have cancer. A horrible, crab-like disease has invaded your body, is gnawing your flesh, has pushed greedy tentacles into your vital organs. A loathsome scavenger slowly and inexorably is consuming you alive, cell by cell.”²

    With these stark words one of the 20th century’s most successful cancer-treating irregulars opened his autobiography, catching cleverly the fearsome and repulsive image in which mankind has conceived of cancer through the ages. The word “cancer” does derive from the Greek word for “crab.”³ The crawling spread of cancer, whether external and observable or internal and secretive, is relentless,...

    (pp. 390-407)

    JUST as, a little later, it was with a sense of shock that an affluent America rediscovered poverty, so was it with shock that, in the mid-1950’s, a scientific America rediscovered quackery. Not that either poverty or quackery had been gone or really forgotten. Major emphases, main preoccupations, had just lain in other directions. For both physician and layman, from the late 1930’s on, the engrossing theme had beenrealcures through the miracle of chemotherapy. Was it not a fair assumption that, as the sulfas, penicillin, and other potent new drugs expanded their zone of lifesaving power, the territory...

    (pp. 408-422)

    TO COMBAT the menace of quackery, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Abraham A. Ribicoff told the delegates to the 1961 Congress on Medical Quackery, his Department and the American Medical Association could cooperate wholeheartedly. “It is a well-known fact,” he also said, “that we do not always agree on every subject—the AMA and myself.”³

    This remark brought a chuckle from Ribicoff’s audience, well aware that the power struggle over Medicare, quiescent during the Eisenhower years, was, with John F. Kennedy’s accession to the presidency, beginning to heat up. The President would shortly present to the Congress a wide-ranging...

    (pp. 423-434)

    “QUACKERY . . . is the legitimate offspring of ignorance.” So asserted an orator at the opening of a new medical school in Nashville in 1851. Certainly ignorance has ever been and remains one of medical quackery’s major props. “Many people . . .,” asserted a recent Food and Drug Commissioner, “know little more about the human body than if they had lived a hundred years ago.” Much of what is “known” is what was known a century ago, traditional lore, handed down from generation to generation by precept and example, some of it going back centuries, even millennia, or...

    (pp. 435-471)

    ON a Saturday afternoon in June 1990, on a Chicago El train rumbling from Wrigley Field back to the Loop, a friendly, well-dressed woman handed another passenger a single sheet of paper crowded with suggested uses for aloe vera, plus three telephone numbers from which that botanical in its various processed forms might be ordered. As juice, gel, lotion, facial, shampoo, and activator, aloe vera, according to this simple document, could come to grips with over a hundred health problems, external and internal, from scalp sores to athlete’s foot, from migraine headaches to intestinal flu.

    From the earliest times, aloe...

    (pp. 472-480)
  28. INDEX
    (pp. 481-498)